Why Taiwan Matters

As a frequent visitor who has developed close personal friendships with many Taiwanese, I consider Taiwan a special place in the world that I have grown to love. My affection towards Taiwan and her people have been the primary motivation for writing this blog. Yet personal feelings aside, the future of Taiwan matters. Although an island of 23 million people and only the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, Taiwan’s importance to the United States and the rest of the world far outweighs its size.

Location

Taiwan’s strategic location in the South China Sea promotes stability in the region and prevents China from claiming complete control over major shipping lanes. As China seeks to expand its presence over many small islands that it claims as its own, its naval presence will increase and enabling China to cut off shipping routes used to transport goods to and from the United States, Japan and other nations. This can have a detrimental effect on trade and jobs, not to mention international security in the Pacific.

Technological Importance

Taiwan is among the world’s largest centers for emerging technologies. Taiwanese companies have produced most of the semiconductor chips used in manufacturing transistors, diodes, and computer memory devices. Semiconductors allow the Internet to function, and serve as a primary component of every modern day electronic device, including computers, tablets, smartphones, bank ATMs, 3D printers, air conditioners, solar technology, motor vehicles and airplanes. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is not only the world’s largest producer of high-quality chips, but its products are the most advanced. In addition to supplying chips to customers like Apple, Nvidia and Broadcomm, TSMC even sells their most advanced chips to Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, America’s two leading semiconductor chip manufacturers.

 



An integrated circuit.


Covid Management

Taiwan’s response to the recent Covid-19 pandemic has been an example to the world. Looking back to its 2003 experience with SARS, the government activated its Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to coordinate efforts to manage the growing public health crisis. In his capacity as CECC chief, Taiwan’s Health Minister also began providing daily briefings to the public. Laboratories in Taiwan developed four-hour test kits and isolated two strains of Covid-19. In a single day, Taiwan integrated its national health insurance and immigration databases, creating a tool for health care professionals to identify high-risk cases by viewing a person’s travel history during clinical visits. The island also boosted the domestic production of masks, directed Taiwan Mail to distribute masks to pharmacies and health centers, instituted a cloud computing system for rationing masks, ran a creative public education campaign, established a fact-checking center to debunk virus-related disinformation, extended academic breaks, closed schools and universities with two or more confirmed cases of Covid-19, disinfected public spaces, and provided financial assistance to workers furloughed during the outbreak. Contract tracing began early on, and strict quarantine of all individuals arriving from abroad was instituted. Scientists in Taiwan have even developed a Covid vaccine (“Medigen”), launched in August 2021. More than 80 percent of Taiwan's people have been fully vaccinated, most with WHO-approved vaccines like Oxford-AstraZenica, Pfizer-BioNTec and Moderna.

Despite a drastic increase of Covid infections due to the highly contagious Omicron variant during the spring of 2022, the vast majority of Taiwan's Covid cases have been either asymptomatic or mild. Statistics show fewer Covid-related infections and deaths when compared to other places with similar populations. As of mid-May 2022, Taiwan reported a total of 768, 543 Covid infections, with a death toll of 1068. Mid-May figures from other counties (and the U.S. state of Florida) follow:

* Chile (20 million people): 3.605,522 cases; 57,772 deaths.
* Netherlands (17.7 million people): 8,067,116 cases; 22,292 deaths.
* Sri Lanka (22 million people): 663,676 cases; 16,511 deaths.
* State of Florida (21.5 million people): 5.997,998 cases; 74,178 deaths.

At the same time, Taiwan’s dynamic free market democracy avoided the kind of massive economic shutdowns that were experienced throughout much of Asia, North America, Europe and South America. Taiwan has also been a major donor of face masks, PPP supplies and other medical equipment to many countries throughout the world.
China has pressured many international organizations - such as the World Health Organization and others that are involved with shipping, fishing, civil aviation and nuclear energy – to exclude Taiwan from their activities. Although Taiwan is a major player in all these areas, this policy has limited Taiwan’s ability to contribute to furthering developments in science, healthcare, technology, environmental protection and economic policy.

Self-Determination

The right to self-determination allows people to choose their own destiny and is a cardinal principle in modern international law. It states that a people, based on respect for the principles of equal rights and equal opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status without interference from others.
Self-determination was part of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s famous “Fourteen Points” which was designed to lay the foundation for the League of Nations. He said, "National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. 'Self- determination' is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action." His sentiment was later reflected in Article 1 (2) of the United Nations Charter. It establishes that one of the organization’s main purposes is to develop friendly international relations based on respect for the “principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

Until the late 1980s, the Taiwanese people were not allowed the opportunity to determine their own future. They were under the control of the Qing dynasty, the Japanese Empire, and a military dictatorship under the Kuomintang. The doctrine of self-determination allows the Taiwanese to finally choose their own political status and determine their own form of political, economic, cultural and social development.

Annual surveys conducted by the Election Study Center at Taipei’s National Chengchi University have documented the changing stances of Taiwanese regarding independence and unification with Communist China over the years. As of June 2021, only 1.5 percent of Taiwanese respondents favored “unification as soon as possible,” while 5.6 percent favored “independence as soon as possible.” The vast majority of those surveyed – 87 percent- favored the status quo. Of that number, 25.8 percent want to move towards eventual independence (the corresponding number in 1994 was 8 percent). In 1994, the number of Taiwanese favoring the status quo with an eventual move towards unification with China fell from 15.6 percent in 1994 to 5.7 percent in 2021.

Democracy

Taiwan’s democracy is one of its greatest strengths, and shows that Western political structures are compatible with Asian culture. Taiwan is considered to be the most vibrant democracy in Asia. Its direct election of the President is even more democratic than in the United States, which holds indirect elections through the Electoral College, where a candidate receiving the largest popular vote can still lose the election.
Taiwanese enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of movement and unrestricted access to the Internet. This has been a major reason why Taiwan’s partnership with the United States and other world democracies has been based on shared values, people-to-people ties, and leading-edge business and scientific cooperation led by global companies and other international institutions. As a democratic society, the Taiwanese people should be able to decide their own future in any way that they see fit.

Towards a New Perspective

Taiwan has long been viewed by the West as a bulwark against the spread of Communism, while the Chinese see Taiwan as absolutely necessary for the regeneration of the Chinese nation. Both of these old beliefs need to be questioned, and political leaders in all countries need to move past the views that portray Taiwan as a kind of poker chip to be played in the game of international politics. It is time that people who are not Taiwanese should not make decisions regarding Taiwan’s future. Such decisions should be made by the Taiwanese people themselves.

 

Notes

“COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.” https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ Accessed March 26, 2022.

C. Jason Wang, Chun Y. Ng, and Robert H. Brook, “Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan: Big Data Analytics, New Technology, and Proactive Testing,”Journal of the American Medical Association, March 3, 2020.

“The UN Charter,” United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/un-charter.

“Changes in the Unification – Independence Stances of Taiwanese,” Election Study Center, National Chengchi University.
https://esc.nccu.edu.tw/upload/44/doc/6963/Tondu202106.jpg


 

© 2022 by Nathaniel Altman

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